Episode 14 – Dirty, dirty boys

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A quick update on Switzerland, who I often seem to forget about in this save, we were drawn with Norway and Belgium in the European Nations League, finished top and our next involvement will be the 2024 European Championships. Job done, back to the real challenge.

LIGA BBVA_ Overview Stages

This is the Liga BBVA table so far.We sit second 6 points behind undefeated Barcelona, our other title rivals Real Madrid are close behind while our next opponents Atletico, led by new boss Zinedine Zidane, are struggling down in 14th.

We go one up quickly through Rong Qifei, but Atletico get one back through bogeyman Ivanov. Despite a half time tongue lashing, we can’t force our way through and come away with a draw.

We then travel over to Germany for a Champions League tie with Leverkusen. The Germans take a early 2 goal lead. While they are munching frankfurters in their dressing room, my Valencia side are cowering in fear. I haven’t been this angry since Legogate, and I am showing it. The magnetic tactics board is jammed up against the shower room door, because my players don’t deserve a post-match shower. I tell them that they will be going home dirty and unwashed if they don’t improve, I swear more fluently in English than Spanish so the squad are treated to me ranting and raving in a foreign language only 5 of the 18 man squad understand. I really hope they don’t translate….

The second half improves slightly, but we still lose 3-1. I allow the players to run around under the groundsman’s sprinklers in their shorts rather than shower.

Back home, the board suggest increasing the transfer budget. Finally, I’ll get some money to spend. I sit down in front of my scouting list and start looking at potential signings for January. The long awaited email comes in and I get my budget upgraded to…. £2.95m. Great. I forget almost every signing I thought of.

Athletic Bilbao are the next opponents, and copy my gameplan to a T. They send cross after cross into the box, and one connects, putting us behind. I mentally behead every journalist and pundit who thinks the Bilbao boss is a visionary in tactics, when he’s merely a copycat. Luckily, the much maligned signing Nicky Hurst puts a beauty in for Andres Renteria to equalise before half time. After half time we go in front thanks to the ever improving Wang Tang, and take home the 3 points.

Thanks to a cramped fixture list, I’m forced to put out a slightly weaker side than I would have liked for the visit of Monaco.

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Tim Nederburgh, Rong Qifei and Renteria need serious rest, but with the improvements to the transfer budget, I can’t afford to send them to a day spa, so they have to sit on the bench. Monaco look strong as ever, with Icardi and Ballon d’Or favourite Bernardo Silva starting, and Berardi an impact sub.

All is well until Eric Bailly single handedly knocks us out of the Champions League. Berardi comes on and Bailly loses him, then runs back and hacks him down inside the box. Bailly gets sent off and Berardi scores the penalty. Considering how much we need this win, Bailly will incur my full wrath. Rong Qifei comes off the bench and gives us a fighting chance before straining a calf muscle, but Monaco immediately restore their lead, leaving us in the Europa League yet again.

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Eric Bailly is fined a week’s wages and dropped indefinitely, well, until I need him really.

The Europa League draw gives us an interesting match against Anderlecht in the first knockout round.

Despite my only left winger Ahmed Musa’s long term injury, he gets called up for the African Nations. Unless they want him in a coaching capacity, or just to carry on water bottles, I don’t see how he’ll be any use to Nigeria. Most likely he’ll just get injured again, in which case I shall be cashing in come the summer.

As I move into January, I pick up two youngsters for the future who can also be a backup for the first team.

Vladimir Besek_ Overview Attributes-2Martin Licka_ Overview Profile

Both players look promising, and address some issues in squad depth. Tiny Tim Nederburgh will finally be allowed to rest occasionally at right back, and Musa’s injury and mysterious call up to the Nigerian ACN squad will not be quite as devastating as previously thought.

We draw Deportivo in the Spanish Cup quarter final, which is quite a favourable draw. Next up is 4th placed Espanyol, who are only 2 points behind us. Ahmed Musa is already worrying about injuries before his international duties, so I play Sisto on the left with new signing Vladimir Besek on the bench. One goal from Rong Qifei seals the win for us.

Against Deportivo, I send out a second string side. It’s not that I don’t value the cup, having won it back in 2023, but I have several players complaining about lack of game time including Dutch slave Kevin Van Keulen.

Rong Qifei is the only guaranteed starter, as I have no Musa thanks to the African Cup of Nations. 3 other players have also been called up. A boring 0-0 draw takes place, my only consolation being the lack of an away goal.

Our performance improves drastically against Real Sociedad, Rong Qifei showing no sign of fatigue to score in the first half. Real Sociedad don’t get a shot until the 60th minute, our high pressing game forcing them to camp in their own half. We don’t get another goal, but we dominate possession. I’ll take a 1-0 win with 65% possession and only 3 shots conceded.

Transfer deadline day comes and goes, a few clubs offer to take Dutch youngster Hicham Yildirim on loan, but he has 5 league goals in 12 starts which isn’t too shabby.

A few of the seconds come out again for the Spanish Cup second leg against Deportivo. Due to injuries, suspensions and the African Cup, I’m forced to field some first team players. Oh, the humanity.

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Kevin Van Keulen plays, if only to stop him mumbling to himself in Dutch about leaving. Tiny Tim Nederburgh’s injury and Martin Licka’s suspension means wantaway club captain Sebastian Rode has to play right back.

We get an early goal through new signing Vladimir Besek, but Deportivo pull it back before half time.  As always, I rant and rave at the players, and send on Kostas Stafylidis just to tighten up the left back spot. My one man screaming match has no impact whatsoever, but we do win on away goals. We draw Barcelona in the semi, and all hope fades away.

Just as transfer deadline day is over and done with, Rong Qifei wanders into the office, swallows nervously at least twenty times, then asks to go and join RBL in Germany. I can’t talk him out of it, and he eventually leaves with a promise that if they match my valuation of 50m, he can go. Luckily, I highly doubt RBL have that money to spend. Still, I’m extremely annoyed at the lack of loyalty. He came to us on a free transfer from Vit.Setubal in Portugal, and is now worth 26m. I wonder who’s responsible for the sudden change in fortunes…..

Find out next time whether I can outwit the might of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Sevilla and Anderlecht in the next month of fixtures!

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